Bringing joy to the plate
By Morgan Slaven
Chef Govind Armstrong likes to keep it fun, and he seems to be having his way from menus to restaurant businesses.
"I've always been passionate about growing food and working in the gardens as a family and whatnot, ever since I was a child," he says. Whatever other kids might be doing, Armstrong was creating recipes, tasting and taking pictures of the finished dishes that wowed guests at family and neighborhood gatherings in his native Los Angeles.
"I had this connection with food, from raw product to actually cooking and preparing it," he says. "Serving people was something that brought me a lot of joy, so becoming a chef was just something I knew I wanted to do."
Armstrong first acted on his calling at the age of 13, when he became an apprentice at the world-famous Chef Wolfgang Puck's trendy Spago Beverly Hills. This summer school and after-hours educational work rounded out his high school years. He followed that with business courses in college and then built his own reputation for showcasing food, flavor and local products--profitably.
"It's not only understanding and knowing the creative side, but really being able to work with the numbers," Armstrong explains. "We have pretty small margins in the restaurant business, so the better you are at that side, the more sustainable your business can be."
While he has traveled the world in pursuit of his passion, Armstrong still calls Los Angeles home. There he owns the acclaimed Post & Beam restaurant along with business partner Brad Johnson. His 8 oz. Burger Bars chain has six locations around the country, and he is involved in numerous other ventures and openings.
Wherever work takes him, the chef aims to present others with high-quality dining opportunities. Post & Beam features a California seasonal-style eating experience, complete with the West Coast customary wood-burning ovens and open-hearth grills. Armstrong makes it his mission to source the best available produce by shopping at local farmers markets and even managing an on-site garden that provides the restaurant with herbs and lettuce.
"Our food is very ingredient-driven, so it's simply prepared," he says. "We let each product speak for itself."
As for high quality, it's simply smart business. "People expect it nowadays," Armstrong says. "They're more cautious in spending money, so no matter what it is they're ordering, they want quality and they want consistency. That's we're able to provide on a nightly basis at the restaurant."
When it came to finding a source for red meat products, this self proclaimed "die-hard carnivore" invests in the best beef. "I feel very confident and I want my customers to feel very confident, so I put the Certified Angus Beef brand name on the menu," he says.
That helps differentiate from other restaurants, too, but mostly Armstrong says he stays with the brand for its consistency.
Those feelings were solidified last year when the chef visited Bradley 3 Ranch near Childress, Texas, as part of a CAB-organized tour. The Bradleys were pioneers in helping start the brand's Natural extension a decade ago, and have been producing purebred Angus cattle for more than 50 years.
"That was just another thing that brought me a lot of joy," he says. "Seeing how the cattle are raised and nurtured, meeting the people and putting a face to the brand name was really important for me.
Armstrong's vision for the future is to open more restaurants with localized menus that let the quality of local raw products shine. He'll stay with "consistent, flavorful beef to make my customers happy," but no two restaurant menus will be the same because they must reflect the local communities and cultures.
"Everything is on that plate for a reason," he says. "That just really keeps things interesting for me as well. Creating new menus, testing all those ingredients and tasting the final product is something that is really fun."
As the chef continues to spread his culinary and business influence, more and more diners can expect to share in the joy.